The Liberal Democrat challenges for 2012: A coherent narrative

To mark the start of 2012, we’re running a series of posts over consecutive days on the main challenges for the Liberal Democrats in 2012. I’ve already written about the four priorities for the party’s new Chief Executive, Tim Gordon, but as the Liberal Democrats are more than just the one man whilst he has four, this series sets out six for the party.

Yes, the party still needs a narrative.

No, a shopping list isn’t one as Neil Stockley explains.

Yes, it needs to be consistent.

No, it shouldn’t major on the bad news.

Yes, it should feature fairness.

No, it isn’t the job of the Chief Executive.

And yes, there are some signs of it appearing.


You can read the full set of challenges as they are published on Lib Dem Voice here.

* Mark Pack is Party President and is the editor of Liberal Democrat Newswire.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • David Allen 8th Jan '12 - 8:11pm

    The party already has a narrative, which is that the coalition has been good for Britain and good for the Lib Dems, that the Lib Dems are getting 75% of their policies implemented, and that the Lib Dems are an effective brake on Tory right-wing policies. It is a cogent and coherent narrative. The only problem is that nobody outside the party believes it, because it isn’t true.

  • @David Allen

    That would be the ‘shopping list’ narrative that the original article expressly rejected then.

  • David Allen 8th Jan '12 - 11:22pm

    @ T-J

    Partly agree. Yes, when I criticise the “75% of our policies” stuff with its endless shopping list of minor successes which are presumed to balance our major failures, I should acknowledge that Mark’s original article rejected much the same things.

    I would also agree with Mark that Clegg’s New Year message was, in the abstract, a more than halfway decent effort at summing up a coherent philosophical position. The trouble is that it is completely out of synch with what we are actually doing as we help the Tories marketise everything and promote social inequality.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Jan '12 - 3:50pm

    There are signs people are realising the Labour narrative “every cut in government expenditure is wrong, every rise in taxation is wrong” isn’t a sensible one. One of the reasons I’ve never liked Labour is seeing just how often their narrative when in opposition isn’t much more than that – I’ve seen it many times when they’ve lost power at local level, though then it’s often combined with additional nastiness, such as trying to manufacture a spin on anything the majority party is doing that could get it labelled as “racist”.

    The question “OK, so how would YOU pay for it?” thrown at them is a good one. It’s been good to see Labour owning up recently to the fact they have to be able to answer that sort of question, though some of that owning up does seem to be Blairite v. Brownite stuff. I thought Ed Miliband the best of the leadership candidates, though he’s been very disappointing since being elected, but I’d hate to see the Labour Party pushed backed by the Blairites into being Tory-lite. It’s in OUR interest that we have a Labour Party that’s saying worthwhile and interesting things because it’s in OUR interest that there’s a Labour Party worth coalescing with. If there is not, the danger of the present coalition becoming permanent, and hence our party going down the “National Liberals” route becomes greater.

    However, it’s good news for us in the short term if even Labour feels it can’t get away with “stop the cuts” and nothing else stuff. It suggests to me there’s a sense of realism about, we are beginning to get our message across, and perhaps our drop in support is bottoming out. If this proves to be the case, we then need to avoid getting complacent. We might avoid being destroyed in the next election, but if we go into it saying “the coalition has worked”, we won’t make much progress.

    So, our narrative should be “We supported the coalition because IT’S WHAT YOU THE PEOPLE VOTED FOR and we are democrats” rather than “because we agreed with Tory policies”. This was made easier by the vote against electoral reform – the successful “No” campaign explicitly campaigned on the line that distortion in favour of the biggest party is a good thing. We have the government that results from that i.e. one in which the Tories have more power than they would have had if there was a more proportional system. So, we should be saying “this is a Tory government with a little LibDem influence, not what we would be doing if we were the major party”. We should be pushing the line that our agreeing to go into it was a sacrifice, which we knew would damage us but done for the sake of democracy.

    From this, we need to end the smugness about the coalition that let the line “You went into it for comfy jobs” to work. The Liberal Democrats are a party of thousands of people. Most of us did NOT get comfy jobs out of the coalition. Let us develop an image that makes it clear the Liberal Democrats are not just half a dozen people who got government jobs.

    I continue to feel the “75% of our manifesto implemented” line is an appalling mistake. As well as being smug, it stops us playing the line I suggested above, it makes us look as if we weren’t offering much and what we were wasn’t that much different from the Tories. Instead we should be pushing the line of how much MORE we could have achieved had we more MPs and so more than the small amount of influencer the coalition really gives us.

    As the 2010 election shows, coalitions aren’t necessarily about the LibDems choosing which of the others to go with. The message that the current coalition was somehow one of principle coming after a “Clegg coup” which pushed us to the economic right is an appallingly damaging one. Better that we use the situation to show that sometimes, as in 2010, there isn’t a choice, better to push the message that it’s also about the willingness of the other parties. We need to go into the next election making clear we are an independent party with our own ideas, ideas very different from the Conservative Party, and that we need the freedom of many more MPs in order to put those ideas in action. Saying we have achieved most of our manifesto with a small number of MPs as a junior coalition partner sends out the defeatist message that we are happy staying small and junior.

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